Still hungry

This is a lovely post from Shannon Huffman Polson over on Patheos. Go read it now. But come back.

Communion_ShadowThe story certainly speaks to discussions we have had in our house, and our feeling that children should never be excluded from God’s table (our former priest Christopher Martin said something similar to her bishop, along the lines of, “I never want there to be a time in my son’s life when he doesn’t remember being fully included as part of the Body of Christ”).

Another reason I often state for communing children is in response to the protest that “they can’t fully understand” what’s happening (also given re: baptism). The simple answer to that is: “Who does?”

I mean really, if you can tell me you fully grasp everything God is doing through the sacraments, you are a stronger theologian than me. And if Jesus really did ask us all to approach the kingdom “like a little child”, then perhaps we adults are the ones who should be holding back and waiting, watching for their instruction on properly entering the mystery.

Polson’s story also harkens back to one of the greatest moments this past Lent for me, when my two year old son ate his communion cracker, then promptly stated (loudly): “I’m still hungry!”

Indeed. How often has that been true for many of us?

And not just spiritually speaking, though we could go on forever about that. Why aren’t we physically satiated by this meal?

Why isn’t this a meal at all?carow1_500x375

Polson’s son is hungry and she waxes rhapsodic about fulfilling his hunger at the altar rail. Only that doesn’t work. Not if her son is anything like mine. A thin wafer ain’t gonna do it.

This past weekend we missed a talk about intentional eating at our church, and later our priest was filling us in and told us he was surprised that people weren’t connecting the meal we eat on Sundays with the act of eating.

But I’m not. Because today’s Eucharist is no longer a meal. It in no way resembles food. That wafer is what I fondly call a Liturgical Prop. Even if you’re one of the lucky folks in a church that bakes weekly – still I ask: does the King of kings feed us only bread, as if we were slaves and not his beloved children?

So until there is more up there – until there is actually a meal to our meal, a feast element to the feast elements – then my son, and Polson’s, and the rest of us…we will probably stay hungry.

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Eating as a Spiritual Act, Part 2

Remember when I said I would write up more of my notes from the panel I attended on this topic? I’m finally getting to that! Here is Part 1 in case you missed it.

So, the last thing I said was how eating opens us up to a number of realities: ecological, agricultural, social, and so forth. Dr. Wirzba maintains (and I concur) that religious traditions are an excellent key to helping us think through these realities. He said, “The opposite of religion isn’t atheism, it’s negligence.” In other words, by shirking our responsibilities to be good stewards of God’s creation, we are denying our very connection to God.

The fact that the creation story takes place in a garden is significant: the Deity of Christianity (and all the Abrahamic faiths) is not violent and powerful, but a farmer, who picks up and uses the soil to create life. He gets his hands dirty, so to speak. “God loves the soil first, because without loving soil, there is no you or I.” The creation is ultimately an act of hospitality, wherein God “makes room for another to be…to become what they are most able to be.”

I would add that the story of Christianity ends at a great banquet – the telos (a word meaning ultimate destination, destiny, fulfillment of purpose) of the garden is this hospitable act of celebration and communion. The Sabbath was the culmination of creation (it was seven days, not six: humans aren’t the final word, but rather REST and appreciation).

Our life now is the growing, in the garden; our afterlife is the harvest, the enjoyment of the growth we have allowed and fostered in our lives. We are not meant only to sustain life together, but to celebrate it. To be hospitable: helping others – and ourselves – become fully who we are.

How would our worldview and self-image change if we thought of God primarily as a farmer or a gardener (or a vintner)? If we thought of the world we inhabit as a garden (and not a “resource”, another word for “superstore” in consumerist mentality), and of ourselves as the plants God is tending? A gardener understands virtues such as attention, patience, long-term commitment, the value of hard work, and the vulnerability and fragility of life. If we modeled our lives after God’s in this way, oh how our eating habits would change.

To drive this point home, Wirzba asked, “What if we thought of food as ‘a Gift'” – pointing out that the name we give to food is important. For example, thinking of a plant as a weed, or a flower, or a vegetable gives us different ideas in our mind of what that plant’s use is and how to relate to it. So with food: we relate to it differently if we think of it as fuel, or a commodity, or a Gift. “Naming something is the act of establishing a relationship with it.”

When we vote for “cheap” as our primary value around food (voting being what we’re doing with every dollar we spend – particularly on the Dollar Menu), we are not honoring the life that food represents (remember the quote, “for any of us to eat, others have to die”). We want to be able to say grace before meals with a clear conscience.

I wonder, how can we spend ridiculous amounts of money on our pets, or put up huge fights about abortion, but not honor the life that is represented by what is on our plates?

So how do we honor it? Here is Wirzba’s short list of suggestions:

1. Grow something (or if you’re like me, try and fail and appreciate your farmers that much more).

2. Know the people who grow what you cannot grow yourself.

3. Participate in your local food economy.

4. Share food with others.

5. Grow your food imagination: for instance, ponder the miracle and achievement that is a single loaf of bread.

6. Say Grace before meals – make eating a mindful act. Make that a time set aside to think about economy, politics, celebration, gratitude, mercy, and honor of the other lives sitting before you, which you are about to consume.

And one final word of wisdom from Dr. Wirzba: “The point is not to become the food police…the point is to become more merciful with each other.” We learn how to do that by paying attention to the incredible mercy God offers us through our daily bread.

Amen.